Cambodia 2016

November 2016
A 16-day adventure by Looking for 42 Read more
  • 21footprints
  • 2countries
  • 16days
  • 93photos
  • 0videos
  • 2.7kkilometers
  • 1.0kkilometers
  • Day 1

    Kuala Lumpur

    November 4, 2016 in Malaysia ⋅ ⛅ 30 °C

    We have a two day stopover in Kuala Lumpur. On the first day we walk from KL Sentral to Chow Kit. It's a long but pleasant walk that takes us from the Indian dominated Brickfields through to Chinese dominated Chow Kit. We also try out the bean bag cinema. It's novel but better suited to people of short stature. On the second day we stumble upon a motorbike drag race near Merdeka Square. Hotted up scooters zoom up the main road. What a blast.Read more

  • Day 3

    Phom Penh

    November 6, 2016 in Cambodia ⋅ 🌫 24 °C

    We’ve negotiated the visa on arrival desk (check your change carefully), walked through customs and used the wifi at Burger King to give us a chance to find our bearings and prepare for the usual onslaught of transport providers who litter so many global airports. There is a public bus for 1,500riel just 100m away but it stops about 2km from our hotel and it’s raining heavily so we settle on a tuk tuk. The tuk tuks here are different to Thailand. They are more like chariots that can seat four Westerners or probably about eight locals facing both forwards and backwards. Fortunately, the passenger area is dry though many of the riders themselves get soaked by the rain.

    I had read that the traffic here is terrible but it is merely reminiscent of the Indonesian island of Java with the exception that there are more large late-model SUVs here. I feel no anxiety or nerves at all riding in the melee. The tuk tuk ride gives us a chance to take stock of where we are. So much is now familiar after a few trips to South-East Asia. There’s the usual configurations of shops and stalls, the hectic traffic, the damp-affected buildings and the tropical greenery forcing its way through any crack or crevice that it can.

    The Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocide is not a place for the feint hearted or weak of spirit. But the people who were imprisoned were not as fortunate as us to have the choice to leave or turn off their audio tour if things got too rough. Over a four year period, some 20,000 lives were lost here. The magnitude is made even more terrible when you see how relatively small this former-high school complex is.

    On a personal level I am again moved by the willingness of the world to turn a blind eye and ear to stories of secret prisons, torture and murder. I wonder how much we as humans have actually learned from places like this and other similar memorials worldwide. In the words of German Ambassador Baron von Marshall when speaking about Cambodia’s rebuilding and future:

    “It reminds us to be wary of people and regimes which (sic) ignore human dignity. No political goal or ideology however promising or important or desirable it may appear can ever justify a political system in which the dignity of the individual is not respected.”

    I am afraid to think of how many more memorials like this will be required in other parts of the world in the future.

    Make no mistake about it: Phnom Penh is loud. The sound of traffic along the main roads is constant. I can only imagine how dusty the air must get here during the dry months when there’s no water to hold down the grime. All the online guides recommend against walking here due to the tight squeezes you will find yourself in but Paul and I always ignore that advice. 

    We meander along the Mekong River stopping to take some photos and avoiding the scammers. First is a man who approaches and starts telling us things as though he’s our guide. We tell him that we are just going for a walk. He persists. I speed up to walk off. Paul manages to shake him shortly thereafter. Later a second man will try to strike up a conversation as we enter a wat(temple). He tells us he likes our shirts. I’ve read about this con and tell him we’re not interested. He becomes agitated and persists. We walk into the wat with purpose, dropping him. He calls out after us that he’s “not a tiger” and that he was “just being friendly” and that we should “not be so rude”. Cons are the same the world over too. 

    Kandal Market is not far from Wat Ounalom. It’s narrow lanes are packed with vendors selling meats, vegetables, fruits and flip flop shoes. Ladies sit in raised wooden stalls butchering meat on the stall floor using huge heavy cleavers. Others separate the various gizzards of chickens into different bowls. It’s loud and smelly but still pleasant. We are not of great interest to the marketeers because their primary source of income are locals so walking through here is quite easy.
    Read more

  • Day 4

    Phom Penh to Siem Riep

    November 7, 2016 in Cambodia ⋅ 🌫 24 °C

    A mini bus from Mekong Express arrives just before 6:45am. It’s a battered and bruised van but the aircon is cranking and the driver negotiates the traffic slowly. We do loops of the city collecting other passengers headed to Siem Riep on the 7:30am bus.

    At $US13 the bus ride is comfortable, safe and efficient. There’s only 40 passengers, each with allocated seating, individual aircon vents and curtains to block the sun of you desire. An English-speaking guide ensures all passengers are comfortable and provides basic information about the duration of the trip and the midway rest stop.

    Once we leave Phom Penh the landscape outside the bus becomes rural. There’s no congestion and chaos. Just small houses on stilts amidst rice paddies, cattle and ever encroaching jungle plants.
    Read more

  • Day 5

    Siem Riep

    November 8, 2016 in Cambodia ⋅ ⛅ 26 °C

    My cousin from Holland and her partner live here in Siem Riep so we catch up. I haven’t seen her in some years and it’s the first time we’ve met each other’s respective partners. They head off to work for a few hours and we walk into town for a foot massage ($US6/hour). Relaxed we enjoy the trees and lights reflecting on the Siem Riep River.

    We join my cousin to eat at Nest. This is a fine dining experience that is ridiculously affordable. I eat a braised pork belly and quail egg starter followed by fish amok (a traditional Khmer dish) while Paul takes a garden vegetable soup followed by roast duck breast with potatoes. There’s a great selection of wines but Paul and I don’t drink so we stick with fresh juices. It’s an absolutely lovely introduction to Siem Riep where we will stay for the next four nights.

    At the Old Market you can buy all the usual touristy items here. Buddhas, t-shirts, sarongs, prints of paintings and jewellery. And, as with the rest of South East Asia, the vendors aren’t shy about encouraging you to buy. The t-shirt vendors all proudly announced that they had shirts in our sizes. The Buddha statue sellers all insisted their statues were the best price. The jewellery shops all tried to persuade us everything was the genuine article. We wanted to buy some paintings so used this visit as a recce. Prices would start at $US50 or $US35 depending on the size of the piece. Showing interest the promising to return tomorrow would instantly bring the price down to $US30 or $US20. Walking away made it cheaper again ($US25 and $US15 respectively). I’m sure we could have haggled a price but we weren’t yet sure of what we wanted to choose so no purchases were made (later they will be though).

    At night Pub Street is an assault on our senses. Particularly after the lake. Bars compete to play their music the loudest. Stalls line the street selling cocktails and beer. Tuk tuk drivers offer lifts. And Westerners give the locals a terrible idea of what our countries and cultures are like. This is travel at its worst. And it happens here every night. If you’ve not been here you can’t imagine it. Nightmares are preferable to time spent on Siem Riep’s Pub Street; possibly one of the most culturally damaging experiences. Not to the culture of local people but to the reputation and culture of all Caucasian people. I mean, this is all some Cambodian people will ever experience of our cultures so no wonder the more conservative might believe our cultures are depraved or immoral.

    While in Siem Riep we have our teeth cleaned ($US8) and see a movie.
    Read more

  • Day 6

    Lake Tonle Sap

    November 9, 2016 in Cambodia ⋅ ⛅ 31 °C

    Lake Tonle Sap is only a short drive from Siem Riep. A small ten-seater long boat took us from the edge of a canal all the way into the lake and onto a bigger boat (the Tara) for sunset dinner and drinks. It sounds all very contrived but the execution of this adventure was quite good.

    I’m the first to sit on the front of the boat but am soon joined by most of my traveling companions. There’s a cool wind blowing in my face and the sights of floating villages all around.

    These villages are home to stateless Vietnamese people. There’s a history on Wikipedia that explains the circumstances of how this group of people ended up on the lake. So I’m not going to focus on that. There are also Khmer villages on the lake but we don’t go to those on this trip.

    What I can tell you is that everything we do on land, they do on the water. From growing vegetables and chickens to going to school. From playing pool or snooker in a bar to selling goods in shops. You name it, the residents of the floating village do it.

    The children even paddle their boats home from school. Some day dreaming. Some taking responsibility for younger siblings. And others bouncing their boats in the waves.

    With the setting of the sun light bulbs start to turn on at the houses around us. Bare yellow bulbs both attract bugs and shimmer prettily on the black water. 
    Read more

  • Day 7

    Angkor Wat

    November 10, 2016 in Cambodia ⋅ ⛅ 26 °C

    There are so many ways to see Angkor Wat. By bicycle. In a tour bus. On foot (more on that later). By tuk tuk. And there’s so many timeframes for a visit. The small tour. The grand tour. One day. Two days. Three days. The options are endless. Fortunately, Keith and Paul from the Golden Gecko have all the right contacts so for $US13 we have a tuk tuk driver for the small tour starting at 8am (we’re not getting up for the sunrise on our holiday).

    The ticket office is a grand building midway between town and the temple complex. Each person needs to purchase their own ticket because it has a photo on it. This means tour groups line up at the ticket office along with independent travelers. Don’t follow the crowds here; we found three empty counters by walking past the crowds. $US20 buys a one day pass.

    The temples are amazing!!!! I don’t know the name of the specific ones we went to. I could look up a map but it doesn’t matter. This is a place to experience. Our tuk tuk driver tells us the names and some indie but I don’t hold it in my head. I just walk, look, experience and feel the place.

    It’s relatively quiet at the first temples we visit. But by the time we’re at Angkor Wat proper the sunrise tour buses have arrived and it’s hectic. So we call it a day without going too far into the Angkor Wat temple. We’ve enjoyed the rest and the people in large tour groups are a bit obnoxious – they crowd whole passages and scowl if you dare excuse yourself to walk through. They’ve obviously paid small fortunes for their race through the key sites of South East Asia so don’t have time for riff raff.
    Read more

  • Day 7

    Bugs Cafe

    November 10, 2016 in Cambodia ⋅ ⛅ 28 °C

    After a glorious afternoon nap we took my cousin and her partner to Bugs Cafe. The French owner explained the concept and helped us select some food. We opted for the large tasting platter and some deserts. Bugs Cafe is a place where insects are used as protein in “regular” foods. Far from being outrageous, th dishes are delicious and we quickly forgot the taboos around eating this high protein, low fat and environmentally friendly food group. I am sold on the idea of bugs becoming a staple partnod our diets to reduce our reliance on larger meat producing animals (no, I have interest in becoming g vegetarian).Read more

  • Day 8

    Siem Riep to Battambang

    November 11, 2016 in Cambodia ⋅ ☀️ 29 °C

    Today we got the true Cambodia experience: a bus ride that should have been three hours but turned into six. Not because there was traffic but because the bus company spent 2.5 hours trying to fill their bus with passengers by driving laps of Siem Riep before finally hitti g the highway. It was a farce and one that could have easily been avoided had we booked one of the tourist bus companies online instead of letting our guesthouse book for us. Actually, the tourist bus companies would have been cheaper too because they can fill a bus with tourists instead of the tourists on the local bus subsidising the local passengers’ fares.

    The local bus driver was terrible compared with the Mekong Express bus driver we had the other day. The bus swayed and swerved, the driver constantly on the horn. The only good thing is that Paul as I go two sears each so I could lay down and sleep most of the trip.

    It’s late afternoon when we arrive in Battambang. Tuk tuk drivers literally run after the bus as it pulls into the depot. They swarm like mosquitoes as the bus turns to park and block the exit. I am first at the door and get bombarded. “We will get our bags first” I say calmly. The drivers step back. A man in yellow shirt claims me as his and waits for Paul to collect our bag (yes, singular). “Where’s the rest of your bags?” the tuk tuk driver asks. Just this.
    Read more

  • Day 9


    November 12, 2016 in Cambodia ⋅ ⛅ 27 °C

    Battambang city had a pretty riverside centre. There’s waterfront food tents. Women take a aerobics classes in the parks. Lean muscular young men do chin ups and acrobatics on a set of monkey bars (the sort of acrobatics you see on Facebook from time to time). Children play soccer. Couples kick a hacky sack to each other. And old people sit on park benches taking it all in. It’s so pretty even the millions of bugs don’t bother me too much.

    The next morning we hire a guide to show us Battambang. Our journey through the history of Cambodia starts with the railway station. Built by the French in the 1930s or 1940s, the railway station was once part of the connection between Phnom Penh and Thailand. However, after running into disrepair and experiencing a number of derailments, the railway was abandoned in 2009. Now only the ghosts of the railway days remain.

    The Battambang Provincial Hallnis another French structure with Italian engineering. An old bridge spans the river. It was used in colonial days but is now closed to vehicle traffic to preserve it from damage and to prevent accidents.
    Read more

  • Day 10

    Bamboo Railway

    November 13, 2016 in Cambodia ⋅ ☀️ 18 °C

    Our bamboo rail cart is loaded onto the track, the engine splutters to life and we are off. Slowly and genteelly at first then gathering speed until we are roaring along at about 40kph. Clickety clack clickety clack go the wheels over the rickety rails. Sometimes we tilt worryingly sideways where the tracks have become uneven over the years. This is not an experience for anyone concerned with health and safety. But it’s not as though hundreds of carts a day don’t make this journey either.

    When another cart approaches from ahead we stop. One cart is unloaded, the other moves past and the first is loaded back onto the tracks. We passengers just stand there in the jungle waiting to continue. It’s all quite fun.
    Read more